“Slow and steady” is clearly an adage that Cartier takes seriously. The acclaimed manufacturer of shaped watches rarely embraces change for change’s sake, instead favouring subtle improvements to its legendary existing collections. This design mentality, involving gradual and iterative tweaking, produced two important releases last year: the stainless steel Tank Americaine (for the watch’s 100th anniversary); and the revived Panthère de Cartier collection. Continuing in this historically inflected vein, Cartier debuted an updated Santos collection at SIHH 2018. Needless to say, the revamp does for the Santos what 2017’s centennial releases did for the Tank. In short, the new lineup is more crowd-pleasing than ever: available in two sizes, four metal options and, in the case of the larger models, with or without skeletonisation.
All watch nerds know the Santos’s key appeal lies in its design. Originally created in 1904 at the behest of Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Santos was the first timepiece expressly designed to be worn on the wrist. Elegant in its austerity and readily identifiable by the exposed screws throughout the bezel, the Santos found initial appeal as a leather strapped pilot’s watch before obtaining its trademark bracelet in 1978. With this, the essential design elements of the Santos were harmonised — all of which are lovingly integrated into this year’s revamped collection.
While the new models come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes, the entire collection is powered by the same in-house calibre. Originally introduced in 2015, the 1847 MC is fast becoming essential to Cartier’s watchmaking business. Put simply, it illustrates the brand’s growing sophistication as an in-house manufacture, and presents a decent value proposition to customers tired of the ubiquitous ETA movements dominating Swiss watchmaking. Optimised for large volume production, the 1847 MC is (nonetheless) a solid piece of mechanical workmanship. Reserve power clocks in at a robust 42 hours while the bridges — unfortunately not visible through the Santos’ steel caseback — are decorated with guilloché finishing.
Overall, it’s undeniable that Cartier have successfully translated all of the essential elements of the Santos into this new collection. However, they’ve also made significant strides in improving the watch’s functionality. Take the iconic steel bracelet for example. With its randomly orientated screws and rounded links, the Santos bracelet achieves a kind of visual synchronicity with the dial, and is arguably just as important to the watch’s visual impact as the signature Roman numerals or blued sword hands.
But let’s assume that you prefer to wear the watch in its original configuration — on a leather strap. Thanks to Cartier’s (patent pending) QuickSwitch system, swapping out the metal bracelet for leather is a cinch. Essentially, QuickSwitch utilises small tabs between the watch’s lugs enabling wearers to quickly alternate between bracelet or strap: pushing the tabs using a soft pointed instrument (even your fingernail will do) allows the bracelet or strap to be slid off. The QuickSwitch system is complemented by SmartLink — another conceptually similar innovation. Given that so much of the Santos’s visual appeal is tied up in the bracelet, it’s essential that wearers be able to resize it on the fly. To that end, SmartLink uses small tabs under each individual bracelet link. Pushing these (à la QuickSwitch) partially releases the relevant link’s pins, allowing it to be removed and the bracelet to be resized.
Thanks to QuickSwitch and SmartLink, the new Santos collection is easily one of the most wearable to come out of SIHH 2018. Die-hard watch lovers have a tendency to be sniffy about these kinds of aesthetically focused improvements, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. For the wider public, the ability to seamlessly alternate between leather straps and Art Deco-inspired bracelets is a serious game changer. Add to that an in-house movement and the option to take the new models in everything from stainless steel to 18K rose gold, and you have the most comprehensive reboot from Cartier to date.
The new Cartier Santos is now available in medium (35mm) and large (39mm) formats. Prices start from approximately US$6,220. For more information, visit Cartier.